Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

Daisy Njenga leading our staff devotion through Psalms 12

In a world corrupted with sin, even the word legit is not legit. Human relations are not spared as they are many times overrun with conflict on account of sin. It is in this very world that we find vain chatterers. We find proud men who like to bring praise to themselves and flatterers who like to lavish insincere praise on others. But when we are loose with the truth the weak are not spared as they suffer greatly at the oppression of the ungodly. Perhaps you have been caught up in these vices in the past either as the oppressed or as the oppressor.

Coming closer home, how many times have we failed in our own words? How many times have we been dishonest with people perhaps when we feared sincerity would put the friendship at stake. How many times have we promised what we did not think about two seconds later, just because we were afraid of appearing weak? How many times have we disappointed others with our words because we wanted to appear well collected?  Have you been disappointed by a compliment that was given insincerely or with misguided information? Well, this was not different in David’s time as we shall see from Psalm 12.

Psalms 12 is a Psalm of David, which he wrote as a lament having witnessed people talking insincerely with one another and the weak being oppressed as a result. David writes asking for God’s help in this situation while praising God because unlike men’s words his are pure and trustworthy. Looking at the previous Psalms, we can say that David knew of the incorruptible and unchangeable nature of God and he believed in him. We see David asking for God’s help when faced with human injustices such as false accusations as we see in Psalm 7. Here in Psalm 12, we see David allude to the purity of God’s words, in comparison to man’s corrupted words. The big idea is that because God is trustworthy, then his words are pure and they can be trusted implicitly unlike the words of men.

For our reflection, we’ll now briefly look at the flow of Psalms 12 using the ESV:

Vs 1-2  David Laments Against the Ungodly

The Psalmist laments about the disappearance of the godly at a time when everyone spoke lies to his neighbor. He speaks about those who use flattering lips. Flattery is such a serious vice as we see in Daniel 11:32 that it is used as a powerful tool by the enemy. Maybe closer home, is to think about how it’s used in politics at such a time as this. Many a time the public seems to support a person just because they are getting a few coins but in their hearts and elsewhere, they undermine the same person. David cries to God on account of those who flatter with their lips and harbor deception at their hearts.

Vs 3-5 He Pleads with God to Judge the Proud and the Flatterer

From verse 3, we see the Psalmist greatly distressed by the boasts of the proud who disregard God. He pleads with God to bring justice against the wicked. In verse 5, God answers him saying he’s the one who hears the cry of the oppressed. When it feels hopeless we see the character of God as one who does not overlook sin but instead he says he will rise to defend and protect the weak.

Vs 6-7 David finds Refuge in the Pure Words of the Lord

In this section, the Psalmist compares God’s words to silver that has been refined in a furnace on the ground purified seven times. This brings a clear contrast between men’s vain words as we have seen in verses 2-4, and God’s pure words. The process of refining silver is indeed long and tedious, but the refiner watches and waits patiently till he can see his image clearly through the end product after all the impurities have been removed. This is what the Psalmist compares God’s word to that unlike the words of men it is without impurities of flattery, lies, and pride. It’s pure and trustworthy.

Spurgeon once wrote;

“The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as an alloy to precious ore. The experience of saints has tried it in every conceivable manner, but not a single doctrine or promise has been consumed in the most excessive heat.”

Vs 8 He’s encouraged that though Wickedness seems to Prevail there’s Hope

David seems to be ending this Psalm on a sad note looking at what the wicked continue to do in vs 8. But as we’ve seen:

The Psalmist is assured of God’s protection against this deceptive world, where vileness is exalted among the children of men. His confidence as we have seen in verses 6 -7 comes from the fact that God has promised to bring justice to the helpless and his words are trustworthy. So it’s not a sad note because the godly are not on their own.


Through this Psalm, there is a clear call for us who have believed in the Lord Jesus, to be careful with our words. Let it not be asked in our generation and specific society, where did the godly disappear to? But the big encouragement is that while we cannot always trust the words of men, we have the sure word of the Lord who died for our sins. This serves both as an encouragement as well as a challenge for us on how we use our words. We are to depend on God’s words as believers both as an example for our words and a source of refuge in this wicked world.

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By God’s grace, I’ve been thinking through what true repentance is made of, especially when it comes to the affections I feel. Most recently I’ve been thinking about the difference between shame and guilt. Both are Biblical words used in the diagnosis and punishment of sin but what do they really mean? Is there one more preferred than the other? How do they apply to repentance?

Let’s begin with understanding what these words mean. In its essence, the chief defining trait of shame, is embarrassment. Feelings of awkwardness mostly from being found out in wrongdoing. Guilt on the other hand, in its essence is about responsibility for an action. Feeling to blame for wrongdoing. Each can have some traits of the other but I think the chief difference is that of embarrassment versus responsibility.

How does this apply when we think about our sin before God and others? When we think about sin, it is not enough to simply know that something is bad and abominable before God, God cares for how we view it and what feelings it invokes in us. This is where shame and guilt come in. We need to feel both embarrassed and responsible for our sin. Embarrassed because we knew better and still went on and did it. Embarrassment because we did what we think others shouldn’t or did to others what we would not like to suffer from them – the embarrassment of our hypocrisy. The embarrassment of choosing what fails and is doomed to fail. I think this embarrassment is what God speaks about in Isaiah 1:29, when He speaks of redeeming Zion by justice. The effect is that those dwelling in Jerusalem as Isaiah is speaking will be ashamed of their idolatry because it will fail them and cause them to face God’s wrath!

But we must also feel responsible. That we deliberately took action and walked a certain path because we wanted to. That we are to blame for the choice and the consequences that followed. Guilt considers that God is right in His verdict of our sin and that we can give no defense; we are rightly accused and judged, indeed guilty! Isaiah at his call in Isaiah 6, sees God and is immediately conscious of his sin. He knows that he is guilty and deserving of death. “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” v5. He understands and takes ownership of his sin and knows that it means he is doomed.

How then do these two feelings work together in our repentance? Let us consider King David, his sin with Bathsheba and how shame and guilt work together in his repentance as seen in 2 Samuel 11 – 12  and Psalm 51. David sees a woman bathing, finds out she’s someone else’s wife and still calls her up to his room and sleeps with her. She gets pregnant and David devises this grand plan to have her husband sleep with her to cover up the pregnancy but when that fails, he plots Uriah’s death in war. He then takes Bathsheba to be his wife and bear his child. He does all this in secrecy thinking that he is all safe. But God has been watching and sends him a prophet to expose his sin. The prophet quite expertly exposes David’s sin through a story of injustice. David, as the ‘righteous’ ruler is rightly angered by the injustice and proclaims the proper judgement for the sinner. Prophet Nathan then says simply, “You are this man!” and goes ahead to proclaim Yahweh’s verdict and judgement on him.

How does David respond? “I have sinned against the LORD.” This, I think, is the result of shame and guilt. He is ashamed because he gets to see himself clearly. He is able to plainly see his actions in the light of what he knows and has received from Yahweh’s hand. He sees his hypocrisy plainly – how can he judge the unjust man in the story when he has done exactly the same thing to Uriah? His shame humbles him before the LORD to hear and accept responsibility for his sin. With things now so clear, with him off his high horse, then he can take responsibility for his actions, rightly confessing it, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Shame humbles the sinner and gives proper room for guilt to work to bring about confession and then hopefully godly sorrow that leads to repentance.

Psalm 51 records David’s response to the exposure of his sin. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. . . For I know my transgressions and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement. . . Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me and I shall be whiter than snow. . . Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. . . Deliver me from blood-guiltiness, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness. . .

The shame and guilt have worked out their proper course on the road to repentance for David. We shall do well to learn from him. When God mercifully exposes our sin, in private or public, we ought not to take quickly to trying to excuse/justify our sin. There is never a good reason for sin! Then we are to have a good look at our sin – to name it (blood-guiltiness) and understand what it is that we have believed, said and done that is contrary to God. Often times I’ve found that when I am aware of a sin, I want to skip this step of properly understanding and taking responsibility for it because I am so embarrassed by it. But what I am learning from this is that I do not properly feel the guilt of it – take proper responsibility for it, because I haven’t properly diagnosed the error. This means that I oftentimes stick at sinning because I’m busy trying to treat the symptoms and not the root of the problem. I’m busy trying to put out the fire without understanding its cause. “Let’s just move on!” yet we haven’t known what it is we are moving on/away from. I have found that it is when I have properly understood my sin that I can clearly confess it and then seek to turn away from it, which in fact is what repentance means! How can we ever hope to confess and turn from (repent) what we do not understand? How can we be equipped to recognize sin in its different guises when we’re not humbly taking responsibility for it, understanding it at its root? True repentance involves the pain of shame and guilt followed by the real confession of sin and seeking to turn away from the sin we have just confessed as God cleanses and helps us. Skipping any step leaves us simply wallowing in sin not mortifying it!

This article was written by Leah Kagure. 
Leah is a Ministry Training Facilitator at iServe Africa doing bible teaching,  mentorship and looking after female apprentices.

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“we preach out of Bible delight in our hearts and for Bible delight in our hearers’ souls.” (Christopher Ash, Bible delight: Psalm 119 for the Bible teacher and Bible hearer, p. 9)

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The teaching that we are all “little gods”, based on Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34, has been around for quite a while and seems to be on the rise particularly in Kenyan universities so perhaps it’s worth making a couple of comments and links here.

The key verses are quite tricky in a number of respects but particularly for two reasons:

  1. Who are the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82?
  2. Why exactly is Jesus quoting the Psalm in John 10?

But what is abundantly clear is that these verses cannot possibly mean what many popular teachers today use them to mean – that Christians (those who are in Christ) are gods in the sense that we can speak things into existence, we can speak with the authority of the Creator to rebuke diseases, declare blessings, bind disasters, change reality.

Apart from the fact that this is patently bonkers (when is the last time you stilled a storm or created a galaxy?) and sounds very much like the original temptation in the garden (Genesis 3:5), a good look at the context shows that the overall tone and message of both Psalm 82 and John 10 is 1) condemnation of the ‘gods’ and 2) the exalting of the one true God.

  1. The ‘gods’ here are being judged not applauded. The emphasis is on their guilt and powerlessness not their greatness and strength. Precisely the opposite of the way the texts are used by Word of Faith preachers.
  2. The only one being exalted in both passages is the true God. In Psalm 82 He is the one who judges (v1) and who will judge (v8). In John 10 the one in the spotlight is Jesus Christ making a unique claim to be God from God, the Son who is one with the Father, a claim for which he is very close to being stoned for blasphemy.

But what about those initial two questions? What exactly is going on in Psalm 82 and John 10? Well I’m not sure but here are a few things I’ve found and gleaned from others (you’ll need a Bible open at this point).

  • The main choices for the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 are a) bad judges; b) fallen angelic powers; c) all Israel under judgement. The first choice seems to fit well with the accusation (v2-4) and with the context in John’s gospel where ‘the Jews’, usually referring to the Pharisees and synagogue authorities (see John 9), are doing something very similar to the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – not judging rightly. The second choice (dark heavenly powers) makes sense of the opening line about the gods being in the divine council and is the interpretation taken by John Piper. The third option (all Israel) notices that Psalm 82:6 goes on to say “sons of the most high” and notes that the language of God as the Father of Israel begins in the book of Exodus (cf.  John 8:41). So the judgement in Psalm 82 may be talking about the Wilderness generation who were destroyed. This is Don Carson’s understanding. Notice, none of these options for the ‘gods’ is ‘faithful Christians’.
  • More important than the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 is the God mentioned at the beginning and end. I’m seeing a lot of connections with Psalm 2. You have a God who sits in heaven (Ps. 2:4; 82:1), you have wicked rulers (Ps. 2:1-3; 82:2-4), you have a judgement declared from heaven (Ps. 2:5-6; 82:6-7) and you have one who will judge and inherit the nations (Ps. 2:8-9; 82:8). So I’m increasingly thinking that maybe the God at the beginning of Psalm 82 is the Father, the Most High, and the God at the end of the Psalm is the Son. Which then gives a lot of bite to Jesus’ quotation in John 10 and fits with his claims there.
  • In John 10 Jesus seems to make some kind of linguistic connection between himself and the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – the simple point being that it is possible for Scripture to use elohim beyond just referring to the Most High God. But more importantly he contrasts himself with the ‘gods’ in that he is not merely one ‘to whom the Word came’, he is The Word who has come (John 10:35-36). – Jesus is making a how-much-more argument – a claim beyond being one of the ‘gods’, that he is the Son of God, one with the Father. And so the ‘gods’ continue to try to kill him for making such a unique claim to be God.

More resources:

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This is an attempt to start to answer the comments of our friend Oral Roberts to a recent post based on 2 Corinthians 8:9. It was a lengthy comment raising lots of important issues so it’ll need a few posts to respond. And please – other brothers and sisters do come in on the debate and comment below.

I wonder why we glorify poverty and condemn prosperity. Are we living in the real world? How is God glorified when a family has not had a meal for a whole day? While the scripture says “I HAVE BEEN YOUNG AND NOW I AM OLD, YET I HAVE NOT SEEN THE RIGHTEOUS FORSAKEN NOR THEIR CHILDREN BEGGING BREAD”.

  1. There is certainly no reason to glorify poverty in itself. In fact one of the points of the argument I was making in relation to 2 Cor. 8:9 is that someone being materially poor is not in itself of any benefit to anyone; there is nothing intrinsically good or worthy or glorious about poverty that can save people. Ironically, it is the prosperity preachers who want to use this verse to argue that Jesus has come to make us materially rich who must imply that there is something glorious and powerful in (Jesus’) material poverty. I was arguing that the verse is probably not about physical riches or poverty but about the glory of the willingly-chosen, vicarious spiritual/relational poverty of the Cross and the undeserved riches of sonship.
  2. The call to live in the real world is a very helpful reminder though. How do we face the daily realities of grinding poverty and appalling abuse and vast inequality? And what does the gospel mean in the everyday concerns of life? Oral says a lot more on this further on in his comment so we’ll save commenting on this for another post.
  3. How is God glorified? The rhetorical question implies only one answer but – and this is a hard thing to say – we need to be careful before assuming we know what will or will not glorify God. This is a God who was glorified as he hung on a cross, battered, bleeding, naked and dying. His definition of glory may be a million miles from ours. It would be a good exercise to go through the letter of 1 Peter and see what brings glory to God.
  4. What about the quote from Psalm 37:25? Well there are a number of ways to respond to that:
    • For one thing it is, strictly speaking, an observation, not a promise: “I have seen…” It is anecdotal, experience, not a full survey of the world population through all time. Solomon, when he looks at the world, finds something very different (e.g. Eccl. 7:15; 8:14), so do the Sons of Korah (Psalm 44:9-26), so does Job (e.g. Job 21:7-21), so does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:35-38), the Apostle Paul is familiar with hunger (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27; Phil. 4:12) and then you have the supreme exception Jesus The Righteous One crying out in forsakenness.
    • We also need to be careful to read all Scripture together, particularly when it comes to the three great poetic books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job. They speak with very different voices but we need to hear all of them and the conversations between them. Many of us were very struck recently as we went through the book of Job how Job’s ‘comforters’ throw at him stuff like “Consider now: Who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). (Will Keynes, My Psalm Has Turned Into Weeping shows how Job’s friends allude to and (mis)quote the Psalms). One of the dangers is that if we throw around verses like Psalm 37:25, one day it could hit someone in a situation like Job, righteous and abandoned, children not just begging but dead, and on that day it would have the very opposite effect to comfort.
    • And another thing is to notice that Psalm 37 seems very tied into the Old Covenant. The ‘land’ is mentioned no less than 7 times. So it’s impossible to apply directly to us. The blessings and curses (v22) seem to be tied into Deut. 28. The Psalmist has never ‘seen’ the righteous forsaken because under the Old Covenant there were very visible evidences of God’s presence and favour – dwelling in the land, good harvests, large families, lending and never begging. In the new covenant blessedness seems to be defined not so much in terms of these tangibles but in terms of fellowship with Christ  in his suffering now and in his glories later (again see 1 Peter). The great comfort is indeed that, one with the Son, we will never be forsaken, even though it might often look like we are.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

…as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:9-10)

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In previous posts (e.g. here) we’ve found that looking at the Psalms as Songs of Jesus is revolutionary in allowing us to capture their full grandeur and grace. But what then do we do with the Psalms which talk about the Psalmist’s many sins?

One way is to say, Jesus isn’t saying those bits – that was David speaking for himself and showing he was not the perfect Christ. But then that easily takes us back to the skim and pick selective strategy. Because the surprising thing is that it’s in some of the most clearly Messianic Psalms that the writer is also very clear about his sin.

Two examples: Psalm 40 and Psalm 69. Psalm 40:6-8 is cited by the author of Hebrews as speaking uniquely of Jesus (incarnation and crucifixion). Various verses of Psalm 69 are quoted by John, Romans and Acts and there are multiple NT allusions, particularly in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. So both seem to be clearly Psalms of Jesus. Furthermore there is no obvious change in the speaker through the Psalm – it is the Christ speaking throughout in the first person.

What if (hold on, don’t stone me yet) we say that Jesus is saying these things? Is talking about ‘his sins’ in some sense. What! How can Jesus be talking about ‘his sins’? Well I affirm the purity and faultless obedience of Christ as much as anyone but look at these Scriptures:

My beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2:14)

The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… and [he] was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:6, 12)

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14)

For our sake he made him to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21)

Christ… becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13)

So yes, Jesus did no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isa. 53:9) and yet he was counted as a transgressor (Isa. 53:12); he ‘knew no sin’ (2 Cor. 5:21) yet he was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21); he was made a curse, made the snake on the pole; in our marriage union with him, as we have become his, our sins have become his. Or as Luther puts it with breath-taking force:

For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin. . . . He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.”  No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God.  (Martin Luther, Works, 22:166-67 (ht Dane Ortlund))

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psalm 63

There are some Psalms that are classics of devotion to God. They seem to exemplify the emotion and experiential relationship we should have with the Father. But as we’ve noted, if they are only that then they are also crushing and condemning.

Now I want to look at Psalm 63 – another classic of devotion. But then I find Christopher Ash has written (here) what I wanted to say and said it far better than I could so here he is:

In May 1943, from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book.” I have been gripped for a few years now by the vision of getting the Psalms back into Christian use in evangelical circles. It seems to me that they will help us learn to pray; and they will reshape our disordered affections in God’s ways, avoiding both an arid intellectualism (when we are so frightened of charismatic error that we fight shy of the language of affections and emotions) and an uncontrolled emotionalism (in which emotions run riot in disordered subjectivism).

How difficult it is to pray the Psalms

I take it the Psalms are in scripture in order that we should learn to pray them – and pray them all. That, at least, has been the mainstream Christian understanding since the very earliest centuries. But when we try to pray them, we hit all sorts of problems. We read protestations of innocence we know we cannot make without pharisaical hypocrisy; we hear descriptions of appalling suffering that are way beyond what we experience; we see descriptions of hostility too intense even for metaphorical believability about those who don’t like us; and, perhaps most difficult, we can’t see how we are supposed to pray for God to punish our enemies without lapsing into vengeful thoughts.

The ‘skim and pick’ strategy

So what we usually do is to skim over the bits that don’t fit with our experience, and focus in on the bits that do. “Ah,” I say, “There’s a verse I can identify with; I’ll put that on my calendar.” But even as I do that, there’s a little voice telling me it won’t do; for either I pray the Psalms or I don’t. If I pick and choose, I am just using the Psalms for ideas that chime with my pre-existing ideas about how to pray; and that approach lacks integrity.

The Big Idea: the songs of Jesus

Here’s the big idea I’ve found helpful: think what it would have meant for Jesus of Nazareth to pray a Psalm in his earthly life, in synagogue Sabbath by Sabbath. Very many of the Psalms come into sharp focus when we think of Jesus praying them. It’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’; some Psalms are about the Messiah rather than by the Messiah; others are corporate, as the people of the Messiah sing together; in yet others we hear the voice of the Messiah speaking to us. But many of the Psalms – and especially Psalms ‘of David’ – make the deepest, sharpest, and fullest sense when we think of the Messiah praying them to his heavenly Father. David is a prophet (Acts 2:30) and so he spoke and prayed by the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12); what he prayed expressed his own experience, and yet pointed beyond this; it was the echo of a prayer yet to be prayed, by one who would pray it in its fullness.

Augustine has this lovely idea that Jesus is the cantor, or choir-leader, leading the people of Christ in the singing of a Psalm. The Psalms are his songs before they become our songs, and they become our songs only as we are men and women in union with Christ. We sing them in him, led by him our Representative Head.

There’s lots of theology surrounding this, and plenty of evidence, especially from the ways in which the New Testament writers appropriate the Psalms in Christ. But let me illustrate the difference this makes from one psalm I’ve preached recently:

Example: Psalm 63

In Psalm 63 we read of David’s deep desire for God (v1), David’s passionate delight in God (vv2-4), David’s enduring joy in God that continues through the darkest night (vv5-8) and David’s confidence that his enemies will be destroyed (vv9,10). If I try to make that my prayer (to draw the line of application direct from David to me), I end up saying things like, “David desired God, and I ought to try to desire God more than I do; David delighted deeply in God, and I really ought to desire God more than I do; David had joy in God even in the dark nights, and it would be good if I could learn to do the same…” and so on. Which leaves me deeply discouraged, for it is exhortation with no gospel, and I can’t do it.

But the Psalm makes perfect sense when I read it of Jesus’ desire for the Father, Jesus’ delight in the Father, Jesus’ joy in the Father even in the darkness of a sinful world, and Jesus’ confidence in final vindication. It is his song before it can become mine, and it can be mine only in him. And then it is gospel. I thank God that there is one who desired God, delighted in God, rejoiced in God, was confident in God’s vindication.

Verse 11 is the key. For in verse 11 we meet three responses. First, “the king rejoices in God”; this is the song of the king. Second, “all who swear by God will glory in him”; this is where we come in, the king’s people sharing his desire, his delight, his joy, and his confidence, by his Spirit. And third, “the mouths of liars will be silenced”, those who will not be part of the king’s people.

As I look for opportunities to preach more and more Psalms, I am finding again and again that praying them as the people of God in union with Christ transforms them from a crushing exhortation (try to pray like the psalmist) into a liberating gospel (thank God for the one who prays like this, and who is our Representative Head).

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Preached from Psalm 121 last Sunday. Seems relevant today.

Do we really believe that the Lord is our keeper?
That he doesn’t slumber or sleep?
That he will keep you from all evil?

Because there’s a problem here.

Why are God’s children not always protected?

Full sermon notes here (in English na kidogo Kiswahili).

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In a number of Psalms there are multiple voices. Often they’re taken as one believer talking to another believer. But I’m starting to wonder whether sometimes there is more to it than that.

I’ve just been looking at Psalm 91 and Psalm 121. Both Psalms about divine protection. Lots of shared language and ideas. And a similar structure too in terms of the voices.

Psalm 91

  • Verse 1 – A voice talks in the third person about ‘he’ who takes refuge in the Most High
  • Verse 2 – A voice talks in the first person, looking to the LORD for refuge.
  • Verses 3-13 – A voice talks in the second person of how the LORD, the Most High, will be a refuge to ‘you’ (this speaker is also, himself taking refuge in this LORD – v9)
  • Verses 14-16 – A voice talks in the first person about how he will be a refuge to ‘him’

There are at least two speakers. Everyone agrees that v14-16 must be the LORD himself coming in and confirming that he will indeed deliver/protect/rescue.

It could be that v1-13 is all the Psalmist speaking, first giving a general truth (v1) , then saying what his prayer is to his God (v2), then encouraging other believers (v3-13). But it is very striking that the “you” throughout v3-13 is singular. Just as v1 and v14-16 seem to be talking about a singular man. It could be a generalised ‘believer’ but it’s interesting what happens when Satan quotes this Psalm to Jesus a thousand years later in the wilderness. The strength of the devil’s attack rests on the fact that Jesus knows that this Psalm is about the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God, then Psalm 91:11-12 applies to you doesn’t it? So why don’t you just throw yourself down off the Temple and claim those promises?”

Jesus doesn’t debate the application to himself but he knows a) that you don’t have to ‘test’ a Father-Son relationship and b) this Psalm is going to be fulfilled through the Cross and resurrection – suffering and then glory.

So Psalm 91:3-13 is being spoken to Jesus by another voice – a comforter who encourages him that the LORD God, the Most High will protect him. Who is this? Who could be Jesus’ comforter? How about The Comforter – the Spirit. The one who speaks through the Psalmist (2 Sam. 23:2).

And who is the Most High LORD who is mentioned in v1, v9 and then speaks in v14-16? Surely that must be the Father. The one who is loved by the Son (v14).

So perhaps Psalm 91 works a bit like this:

  • Verse 1 – The Spirit tells us about the Son as the one who dwells in the Father – this verse in a sense functions as the title of the Psalm.
  • Verse 2 – The Son speaks of how he will cry out to the Father.
  • Verses 3-13 – The Spirit reassures the Son of the protection of the Father.
  • Verses 14-16 – The Father tells us about the Son.

Psalm 121

Similar but a bit simpler:

  • Verses 1-2 – A voice speaks in the first person, looking to the LORD for help.
  • Verses 3-8 – A voice speaks in the second person of how ‘the LORD is your keeper’

It could be one person turning from looking to the LORD to address us but most commentators hear two voices, a young faltering pilgrim and then another more experienced pilgrim encouraging him (the ‘you’ in v3-8 is consistently singular).

It certainly does look like two voices but to me the first voice doesn’t sound very young and inexperienced. He just sounds like the Psalmist often sounds, crying out to the LORD and simultaneously confident that the LORD will hear and act. The reference to the Creator of heavens and earth isn’t immature faith but consistent with Ps. 124:8 and 134:3.

The second voice is the comforter/encourager of the first voice. And maybe he gives us a clue to the first voice he is addressing in verse 4 – “Israel”. This, together with the similarity with Ps. 91 makes me think the first voice is the Son (cf. Ex. 4:22). So maybe, as in Ps. 91, the second voice is the Spirit.

What do you think?

Still thinking this stuff through. But if there is something like this going on I find it pretty amazing that we’re allowed to listen in as the Spirit encourages the Son of the Father’s care.



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Psalm 42-43

It’s probably a double Psalm (note the lack of title for Psalm 43 and repetition of the refrain (Ps. 42:5,11; 43:5)).

It’s often taken as a Psalm of spiritual depression but it’s also one of great spiritual intensity. This the perfect response to spiritual depression. A soul panting for God. Desperate for His presence. Reminding himself again and again to hope in the God who is his salvation, his life, his exceeding joy.

I’m sure this Psalm has been a great help to many in the darkness of depression. But I suspect for some it has been a discouragement. In my darkness I might well say, “My sadness is not the result of persecution for the sake of the Lord and being away from his presence. It’s got more to do with a personal despair and a general feeling of rubbishness and self-hatred and overwhelming tiredness. And to be honest I don’t feel that burning desire and thirst for God. I’m not continually talking good Bible truths to my soul and pouring out my heart to God. I just want to sleep and cry and be on my own. So I don’t think I can appropriate this Psalm.”

But what if this Psalm isn’t first about me? Like the next few Psalms it’s “To/for/of the choirmaster, a maskil [something to do with wisdom/teaching/revelation], to/for/of the Sons of Korah.” It seems likely the sons of Korah were the guys mentioned in 1 Chron. 6:33-38 who include Heman (cf. Ps. 88). Two important things come out of this context: 1) Heman and co. were singing prophets in the days of David (1 Chron. 25:1,4-6); 2) The “choirmaster” (or “establisher” or “shining/pre-eminent one”) mentioned in the Psalm superscription was either Heman, Chenaniah or quite possibly King David himself (1 Chron. 15:16; 25:7). So already we’re prepared for a Psalm of royalty and prophecy.

Then in the Psalm itself, we might ask ‘Who went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God?” Surely it makes us think of David bringing the ark back into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6 / 1 Chron. 15). (And perhaps, bearing in mind this is the first of the Exodus Psalms (Ps. 41-72), there might also be an allusion to Moses or even the Lord himself leading the throng out of Egypt (Ex. 13:21-22)). And who is the one with exceeding joy, praising God with a harp? (Ps. 43:4) Well it could be Heman and co. (1 Chron. 25:1) but The Harpist of Israel is David (1 Sam. 16). As a Psalm of David all the stuff about the oppression of the enemy (Ps. 42:3,9-10; 43:1-2) starts to make more sense.

But, once again, it is in Jesus, the Greater David, that the Psalm makes the most sense. It is, as many of the Psalms, a window into Jesus’ head as he hangs on the Cross – his soul cast down, the breakers and waves of judgment crashing over him (cf. Ps. 88:7,16-17; Jonah 2:3,5; Mark 10:38), crying out to God, “Why have you forgotten me?”, his bones in agony as his enemies taunt him.

And the amazing thing we learn from Psalm 42/43 is that even at that moment of Godforsaken agony Jesus maintained his perfect devotion to the Father. Not for a moment did he stop seeking Him, thirsting for Him, trusting in His love, looking forward to praising Him. Isn’t that amazing!!

Where am I in the Psalm? Well first and foremost I’m with the enemies.

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

First and foremost Jesus is my substitute. He maintained perfect devotion even in the depths of anguish and hell. When no other would ever have maintained it. When there was nothing but darkness above him. When the human race was pouring out the very opposite of devotion on him. It is first and foremost for me simply to receive that great exchange – His righteousness for my sin, His perfect devotion for my anti-devotion.

I will not always be panting for God, longing for him. But I am IN CHRIST. In the one who is perfectly devoted to the Father. So as the Father looks at me he loves me as much as Jesus and he sees reflected back the perfect devotion of the Son.

And as I start to get that. That objective truth. Then maybe. Maybe. My affections might start to catch up with reality. And I’ll start to long for the Father as the Son does.

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